Appeal Decision: News24 vs Conrad Gallagher


Thu, Apr 21, 2022

BEFORE THE APPEALS PANEL OF THE PRESS COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA

In the matter between:

NEWS24                                                                                                                APPLICANT

AND

CONRAD GALLAGHER                                                                                RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 9375/12/2021

DECISION ON AN APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

  1. This is an application by News24 (applicant) for leave to appeal the Ruling of the Deputy Press Ombud dated 21 March 2022. The Ruling was on a complaint lodged by Mr Conrad Gallagher (respondent) in respect of an article by the applicant published on 20 November 2021 with the headline: “Cook or crook? The celebrity chef from Gqeberha, the Saudi crown prince and R500,000.00 wagyu steaks”.
  2. The essence of the story was about the respondent. It portrayed him as someone who had, in more countries than one including South Africa, established top-end restaurants, but which collapsed, leaving in his wake debts owing to his suppliers, landlords and former employees – the latter being owed not only unpaid salaries but also tips. Specific collapsed restaurants were mentioned in various places and countries. The article also zoomed on one of the respondent’s alleged creditors, a Mr Fourie, owner of the Dry Ager Deli Supplies (Pty) Limited. It stated that Mr Fourie had, at respondent’s instance, supplied some wagyu steaks to the respondent, in anticipation of an event by Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman at his farm at the Ekland Game Farm in Makhado, Limpopo. According to Mr Fourie, the respondent ended up owing him a lot of money. An argument has since emerged between the two in terms of which the respondent says the meat supplied was not of good quality, and Mr Fourie retorting that the meat was not returned and that, had it been returned, he would apparently have credited the respondent.
  3. The language used in the article to describe the respondent was quite strong, as the headline indicates; for example, he was described as being “notorious for short-changing both service providers and employees”, “scamster and debt dodger”, someone with “a spate of failed and dubious business ventures” with a “catch-me-if-you-can-career”, etc. Before publishing the article, the journalist sent a series of questions to the respondent, giving him 36 hours to respond. The respondent answered that he would do so in due course as he was travelling; however, he did not do so.
  4. The respondent raised a number of complaints, pointing out several articles of the Code he felt had been contravened. He argued that he had been defamed and demanded an apology. It is common cause that the respondent is otherwise a highly regarded chef, internationally; a skilled chef whose services the Saudi crown Prince used.
  5. The applicant stuck to its story and, in substantiation thereof, attached a number of documents. The story also included direct comments by a number of people the respondent had had dealings with, including his former purveyors, landlords and employees.
  6. In his Ruling, the Deputy Ombud dismissed all the complaints but upheld two for which he, respectively, ordered an apology and that the applicant be awarded a right to reply. It is against these two findings that the applicant now seeks leave to appeal. For leave to be granted, the applicant must show reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel. I must now look at the two findings by the Deputy Ombud.

Breach of article 1.1 of the Code relating to the issue of the respondent’s acquittal on a charge of the theft of three paintings.

  1. The complaint was largely based on the following in the article: “The brazen businessman first moved to South Africa in 2003 after a flurry of indiscretions overseas. This included his arrest, extradition and acquittal for the alleged theft of three Felim Egan paintings from the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin”. The Deputy Ombud held that that part of the article was gratuitous. In its application for leave to appeal, the applicant submits, amongst others, that reference to that history was relevant to the context of the whole story. I think this is an arguable point; leave to appeal must therefore be granted. I do however remark that one may be confused by what the applicant says further down after its above statement, that “we accept the finding of the Deputy Press Ombudsman (sic)”. On the face of it, this statement may suggest that no leave to appeal is sought (as the Ruling is accepted). But as the heading states clearly that what is before me is an application for leave to appeal, I accept that leave to appeal is in fact being sought even in respect of this aspect of the Ruling.

Breach of article 1.8 of the Code: Failure to give right of reply

  1. The Deputy Ombud held that the respondent was not given adequate time to respond. It is common cause that he was given some 36 hours; that he said he would do so; but that he did not do so, but instead interacted with his lawyers. In its application, the applicant sets out grounds for its view that the time granted to the respondent was adequate; that he did not, in any case, ask for an extension, which could have been given, and also that instead its source was intimidated. All these are contested by the respondent. Here too applicant’s case is arguable and leave should be granted; that being the case, it is not desirable for me to go into the competing arguments at this stage.
  2. For the reasons given above the following Order is made:

Leave is granted to News24 to appeal the Deputy Ombud’s Ruling of 21 March 2022 holding that News24 contravened articles 1.1 and 1.8 of the Code.

Dated this 20h day of April 2022

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel